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  • Winner of 4 Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, Jacob Cheung's CAGEMAN was famously toppled over heavy favorites like Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA II and Stanley Kwan's CENTER STAGE back then. After finally watching this movie for the first time, it's easy to see why -- CAGEMAN is one of those rare social dramas that depicts the harsh reality of poor Hong Kong residents living in caged apartment.

    Set (almost) entirely at the Wah Ha Men hostel, the movie centers around a bunch of varied residents going through their mundane routines day and night. The hostel is manned by Fatso (Roy Chiao), who has a mentally-challenged son Prince Sam (Liu Kai-Chi) to look after for. Other residents are including Tong (Teddy Robin), an outspoken seller of fraudulent medicines who likes to gamble and smokes a lot; 7-11 (Michael Lee), the oldest resident who never leave his cage and he made his money by selling canned goods from his cage; Sissy (Victor Wong) is 7-11's loyal friend and worker who lives below him; Luk Tung (Ku Feng) is a handyman who often helps to fix broken things; and Taoist (Lau Shun) is a former teacher who likes to talk a lot about philosophy of life. Despite their poor lifestyle living in cramped cages, they treat each other well like a big family.

    When the landlord decides to sell off the entire building, they are thrown into turmoil but they vow to fight back and refuse to leave at all cost. Soon, Fatso seeks Councillor Chow (Chow Chung) to help out their situation. Chow agrees to support them and fight for their rights at all cost. He uses his great influence to attract media attention by volunteering to stay three days at the Wah Ha Men hostel so he can understand more of these cage dwellers. At first, it looks as if there's high hope for the residents but little they do realize that Councillor Chow is actually manipulated them for his personal gain. In the meantime, there's a new resident named Mao (Wong Ka-Kui), a youngster who just released from prison and vows to stay away from triad society.

    Jacob Cheung's direction is perfectly low-key while his social commentary on these cage dwellers as well as his view on hypocritical Hong Kong government are riveting to watch for. The script, written by Jacob Cheung, Ng Chong-Chow, Yank Wong and Chin Yiu-Hang, are absorbing and insightful. Not to mention, the movie is also blessed with some heartwarming moments including the one involving Fatso and Prince Sam enjoying their night together drinking a small bottle of wine and another scene involving the residents celebrating happily during the night of Mid-Autumn Festival (which is perfectly captured in a long tracking shot). Then there's the downbeat ending depicting the fate of cage dwellers, which I must say, truly heartbreaking.

    All the actors here are great with some of the terrific acting ensembles ever put in a Hong Kong movie. Roy Chiao is remarkable as Fatso, while it's rare to see a popular comedian like Teddy Robin plays a different type of character that requires him to swear a lot. Liu Kai-Chi, who won Best Supporting Actor, is endearing as the mentally-challenged Prince Sam (the scene where he "scares" the wine before drinking is particularly amusing). The rest of them are just as memorable. But the most surprising of all is Wong Ka-Kui (well-known as the lead singer of a rock band, Beyond) in his tour de force performance as the young and reckless Mao. It's a great performance nonetheless but it's such a tragedy that he died in a freak accident while filming a game show for Fuji Television in Japan a year later.

    While CAGEMAN may have been a great movie, it's still not without its fair share of flaws. Clocking at over two-hour long, the movie does feels a bit labored with some uneven pace. Eugene Pao and Lee Chi-Ngai's music score is sometimes distracting and awkwardly out of place (you'll know when you hear it).
  • Cageman might have been better titled Cagepeople, because it is all about the occupants of a men's hostel in Hong Kong, who do indeed live in cages - not all the time, of course, but they sleep and keep their belongings inside them. The film doesn't concentrate on one particular occupant, but shares its time evenly between 7-11, a ninety-nine year old who sells all kinds of goods to his fellows from inside his cage, which he hasn't left in twenty years. He also has an assistant, nicknamed Sissy. Other tenants include a tinker, a very short fellow called 'Monkey face', who also owns a monkey, a cook, a perpetually drunk Taoist, and Mao, a young newcomer, recently released from prison. The owner of the hostel is Fatty, who has a retarded son to help him run the place. Almost the entire film takes place within the hostel, and there is barely a female to be seen.

    The motivating incident of the film is the announcement that the block in which the hostel is located is to be demolished by its owners, to make for a development. Issues of relocation and compensation arise among the tenants, and cause divisions. Two politicians also arrive on the scene, and compete in shaking hands for photos and making promises, though their own motives will not appear until later. The occasional presence of TV crews only complicates the situation. Plenty of social issues appear as the film goes on: the treatment of the poor, the disabled, and the addicted in Hong Kong, and the gap between the rich and the poor. Politicians, it seems, are the same everywhere. While offering no solutions (which can't be expected of a film), the movie nevertheless portrays humanely and sympathetically the underbelly of Hong Kong.

    In a character-driven film such as this, acting is of prime importance. I had no trouble believing in any of these people - they looked and sounded like the roles they were playing, so that they quickly become real people, caught in a real situation, largely at the mercy of forces much stronger than themselves.

    There is also an amount of humour in the film, as one would expect with such a range of characters. Of particular note is a discussion regarding the difference between a beggar and a homeless person. There is plenty of realistic dialogue, the kind one would expect to hear uttered by down-and-outs in the absence of females, and this seems to have earned the film a category III rating (which I thought only applied to sex and violence).

    This film is quite a change of pace from the typical Hong Kong fare. It would appeal more to those interested in socially-aware movies rather than escapist entertainment. At 145 minutes, it is also quite long, though it doesn't drag. There is enough lively dialogue and intrigue to maintain interest.
  • This film is about the life of socially deprived people who lives in caged housing in Hong Kong.

    Given the very tough topic of social deprivation, extreme poverty and shockingly appalling living conditions, I expected "Cageman" to be very tough to watch. This turns out not to be the case. Instead, "Cageman" is a warm, positive and loving film about friendship. People in the caged housing live as harmonious as possible, supporting each other by their limited means.

    Amazingly, there are many really funny scenes too. The tenants manage to humour their living conditions, and live brightly and positively as much as possible. As they have pointed out, they may be homeless but they are not beggars. They never pity themselves for being the bottom most level of the society. This sends out an overwhelming message about how dear they value their lives.

    Given the large number of tenants, it is easy for them to be just a face with no depth. However, much time and effort is used to individualise every tenant. Each of them have their own story, their own personality and their own characteristics. This is no easy task.

    Apart from their remarkable solidarity, another thing that stands out in the film is the greed and corruption featured. How the tenants stand up against corporate evil is realistically portrayed. It serves as a protest against corruption in the government, laughable bureaucracy, and the greed of people who always want more. When even the societal outcast is cheated of their belongings and dignity, you can only imagine how corrupted the mortal souls are.

    The ending is the most powerful I have seen in a while. The tenants happily celebrate the mid autumn festival, singing and dancing. They appear so happy even with no materialistic pleasure. It seems to be making a statement that materialistic wealth does not necessarily translate to being spiritually fulfilled. The stark contrast between the festival celebration and the heartbreaking ending is the most memorable. The dead silence in the caged housing, followed by piercing screams and desperate sirens for help is simply heartbreaking. This scene pierces through me, leaving an almost unbearable wound. No one, even if they are perceived to be the lowliest in the society, deserves to be treated like this.

    "Cageman" is a rare example of a fine Hong Kong film. Do watch it if you ever have the chance to.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    One of a number of Hong Kong films which are incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to find anywhere - even on that well-known auction site. I'd been searching for it for years, but finally managed to find it in Mong Kok for $HKD 25.00 (about £2.00 GBP)!

    Not an easy film to watch, but if you are open-minded, and want more than just the usual genre experience, the lengthy running time is well worth the effort. Combining social realism with excellent acting, the film deals with the cage home issue, which hasn't gone away in HK. Over 20 years since the film's release, the problem of cage homes and subdivided flats is in fact getting worse, so this film remains highly relevant even today.

    My only criticism is that I suspect that life in the cage homes is MUCH worse than is shown in the film - having occasionally lived in some dreadful housing myself (yet clearly nowhere near as cramped or as uncomfortable as a HK cage home), I think that this is a fair observation. But that doesn't take away from the superb acting, and this is clearly one of the less-obvious classics of HK cinema.

    But if you can't handle this level of realism, then you probably need to go back to your copy of "My Mahjong Girlfriend 2" or something ;)
  • annaleehk22 December 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    Hong Kong has a very high population density, often people on welfare and new immigrants who can't afford a real place has to live in tiny rooms and even "cages" as shown in the movie. The movie touches on many social issues that were endemic to Hong Kong: polarization between the poor and the rich, discrimination against people who are mentally-challenged, lack of social services, how politicians don't care about anything but media attention… It's sad, but the director managed to slip in a few humorous scenes and the end wasn't as tragic as I expected.

    *This was the last movie Ka-Kui Wong, lead singer of HK's rock band "Beyond", appeared in. He fell off a stage during his promotional tour in Tokyo, Japan 1993.